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Tight end is always a difficult position to draft. The elite players go early but you have to be willing to sacrifice other positions to lock them down. Beyond the top tier, the position becomes highly inconsistent week-to-week which makes it particularly difficult to draft them. You must balance the upside of pure red zone threats versus tight ends who are more regularly involved in the passing offense but do not get into the end zone much.

To help you prepare for your fantasy football draft, here is a look at the top tight ends in standard fantasy leagues heading into the 2018 season.

When you're done, you can also check out our running back rankings and analysis here.

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2018 Tight End Rankings - Standard Leagues

Position Tier Position Rank Overall Rank Player Name
1 1 23 Rob Gronkowski
1 2 26 Travis Kelce
2 3 44 Zach Ertz
2 4 61 Greg Olsen
3 5 68 Delanie Walker
3 6 73 Jimmy Graham
3 7 74 Evan Engram
3 8 78 Kyle Rudolph
4 9 104 Jordan Reed
4 10 112 Jack Doyle
4 11 116 David Njoku
4 12 119 George Kittle
4 13 127 Eric Ebron
4 14 128 Trey Burton
4 15 131 O.J. Howard
4 16 137 Tyler Eifert
4 17 139 Cameron Brate
5 18 151 Jared Cook
5 19 154 Austin Seferian-Jenkins
5 20 155 Charles Clay
5 21 158 Benjamin Watson
5 22 159 Quincy Enunwa
6 23 191 Ricky Seals-Jones
6 24 204 Vance McDonald
6 25 205 Austin Hooper
7 26 223 Jake Butt
7 27 236 Gerald Everett
7 28 239 Vernon Davis
7 29 242 Stephen Anderson
8 30 270 Hayden Hurst
8 31 280 Dallas Goedert
8 32 281 Adam Shaheen
8 33 282 Mike Gesicki
9 34 299 Ed Dickson
9 35 302 Tyler Kroft
9 36 322 Mark Andrews
9 37 324 Jesse James
9 38 327 Tyler Higbee
10 39 335 Garrett Celek
10 40 336 Jesse James
10 41 338 Ryan Griffin

 
Tier 1

The names which make up tier one for the tight end rankings in 2018 will surprise absolutely no one. Gronk has been undoubtedly the best tight end in football, when on the field, for the last seven or so years. Gronkowski averages 70.4 yards per game and a touchdown every 1.34 games or every 6.2 receptions. If you could guarantee a healthy Gronkowski then he would be a top-10 fantasy option every year. However,  the risk when you draft Gronkowski is how many games he plays in any given season. In his eight-year career, Gronkowski has missed 27 games, including nine in 2013 and eight in 2016. It does seem as though the Patriots are trying to keep Gronkowski healthier by not throwing him balls in a position he may get injured, unless they really have to. That does compromise the numbers Gronkowski can put up to some extent, but a full season of Gronkowski with slightly lower numbers is better than losing him for half a season.

Kelce's consistency over the last four years has earned him the right to be discussed in the same tier as Gronkowski. Kelce does not have the same blow-you-away numbers as Gronkowski but he still averages 60.9 yards per game. Where he loses out big time to Gronkowski is on the touchdown front, with Kelce averaging touchdown every 2.9 games and every 15 receptions. In addition, there are also some question marks over ow Kelce's value may change with the move to Patrick Mahomes from Alex Smith. A tight end of Kelce's talent should be QB proof and a good tight end can often be a young QBs best friend. However, where Kelce has the edge over Gronkowski is in games played. Kelce has missed just one game in the last four seasons. When you combine that with his consistency it is hard to not want to invest in Kelce as a top tier tight end.

 
Tier 2

Ertz is an impressive tight end but his value is a clear drop off from the tier above. Ertz averages just 48.3 yards per game and a touchdown every 22.6 receptions. Last season Ertz finished third among tight ends for fantasy but he was a good distance behind Kelce and Gronkowski. The end of Ertz's season was not helped by the loss of Carson Wentz, as the Eagles offense shut itself down a little as they prepared Nick Foles for the playoffs. This year could be a different matter as whoever starts the season should be full go in the offense right from the start. However, the issue for Ertz is the amount of mouths to feed in that Philadelphia Eagles offense, especially with new tight end Dallas Goedert in town. That could mean that Ertz does not see enough targets to put up the big fantasy numbers.

2017 was a write off for Greg Olsen as injuries meant he only managed to feature in seven games. Prior to that he had played 16 games in all of the last nine seasons so it would be unfair to call him injury prone. The issue here is that 2018 will see him play his age-33 season and tight end is a very demanding position for someone who has been playing it for 11 seasons already. From 2014 to 2016, Olsen was arguably Cam Newton's biggest weapon, registering over 1,000 yards in each of those three seasons. Across those three seasons, he scored 16 touchdowns and since Cam Newton has been in the league he has averaged 5.33 touchdowns per season, if we discount 2017. With no clear number one receiver in Carolina still, Olsen could easily return to being Newton's main weapon and could get right back to being a top-five fantasy tight end.

 
Tier 3

Walker had a down year in 2018, only getting in the end zone three times, compared to 13 the previous two seasons. However, Walker was stuck in Mike Mularkey's rather drab offense, which will have had an effect on his numbers. Now he has a new head coach and more importantly, a new offensive coordinator in Matt LaFleur. LaFluer comes out of the coaching tree that has seen Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay become seen as offensive genius' recently. Walker being handed a contract extension is a good sign that LaFleur plans to make Walker a big part of this offense. If that is the case then Walker could easily be a top-five tight end while playing in an exciting young offense.

Graham is no longer the elite tight end he once was. Towards the end of his career in Seattle he became largely a red zone and jump ball guy, scoring 10 TDs with just 520 yards. Now he has moved to the Packers he will get to play with yet another quality QB. The interesting thing is that Aaron Rodgers has struggled to get the best out of his tight ends in the past. Arguably he has never played with a better tight end than Graham, well at least Graham in his prime. In this offense, there should be plenty of opportunities for Graham to get involved, and plenty of red zone opportunities, without too many major rivals for those targets.

Engram stepped up big time last season. With no reliable receivers for Eli Manning, Engram became his guy. If he had that same opportunity for a full 16 games there is every chance he could be a top end tight end this season. However, with Beckham and Sterling both healthy he will have a major competition for target share. Last season was definitely promising, but with Manning fading and major competition for targets it will be tough for him to be consistent this year.

Rudolph's yards were down last season from 2016 but what was thrown his way he caught at a good rate, 70.4%. What was impressive was the eight touchdowns. Stefon Diggs is not a great red zone threat and that is where Rudolph gets his chance. In addition, Rudolph got a QB upgrade this season, and Kirk Cousins had reasonable success throwing to a healthy Jordan Reed in the past. I do not expect Rudolph's target share to increase much and a touchdown-dependent tight end is dangerous. However, Rudolph is in the right offense with a strong QB and should be more than capable of putting up top-10 tight end numbers.

 
Tier 4

Reed has absolutely earned the tag of injury-prone and that is something you have to take seriously when you draft him. When Reed is on the field he can be a monster at the position. His 2015 season where he had 952 yards with 11 touchdowns in 14 games demonstrates that. I do not think Reed got a QB upgrade but he at least has a quarterback in Alex Smith who has shown he favors the tight end.

Doyle has the potential to take off this season. He was solid last year with Jacoby Brissett as QB and now he gets Andrew Luck returning. Doyle has never had a catch percentage below 71.4% in his career. There is nothing a QB likes better than knowing his receiver is going to make the most of his targets. I expect Doyle to be a key part of the Colts offense this season and if Luck leans on him a lot then he could push to be a top-five tight end come the end of the season.

Njoku flashed moments in his rookie season but unreliable QB play did not help him. Getting Tyrod Taylor under center should help him on that front. Taylor managed to get the best out of Charles Clay in his time in Buffalo and Njoku could easily have a breakout in his sophomore season.

Kittle flourished in his last three games with Jimmy Garoppolo, with 194 yards, a touchdown on 11 receptions. With a full offseason to work together, Kittle should benefit and be able to build on a solid rookie season. During Shanahan's time in Atlanta, Austin Hooper played more a functional than a primary role. However, the difference here is that the receivers in San Francisco are not as dominant as they were in Atlanta. Kittle should have plenty of opportunities in this offense.

Ebron has somewhat failed to really kick on so far in his four-year career. His 2016 performance, 711 yards with a touchdown on 61 receptions, was impressive but he failed to build on that in 2017. Now with a change of scenery in Indianapolis Ebron will have something of a clean slate. The concern is that Jack Doyle is also in Indianapolis and he has been very impressive catching opportunities thrown his way. Ebron's size should mean he is a red zone threat all season but if he can become one of Andrew Luck's trusted receivers then he could be a reliable tight end contributor this season.

Burton will get the opportunity to be the primary tight end in Chicago. He is more of a wide receiver type than an in-line blocking tight end, which as long as he manages to keep himself on the field is usually a benefit for fantasy. Burton will be able to line up in multiple spots on the offense and provide mismatch opportunities for the offense. He will struggle to replicate his five touchdowns in 23 receptions that he had last season, but he could easily still catch a handful of touchdowns and add some receiving yards to provide a consistent all-around tight end week-to-week.

Much like fellow rookie Njoku, Howard flashed moments last season. The Buccaneers worked out ways to get him involved and that can only continue into this season. The start of the season is a little bit of a concern how he copes with Ryan Fitzpatrick playing and Jameis Winston suspended. However, after that Howard will be able to continue building his rapport with Winston.

Eifert is another guy who has struggled to stay healthy. Even when he is on the field he has not blown anyone away. However, there is very little competition for the starting tight end spot in Cincinnati, so when Eifert is healthy I expect him to be the primary tight end. He has built a great rapport with Andy Dalton and that still counts for a lot when he is on the field. His late-round ADP makes him a great target if you wait on the position.

Brate has been a reliable tight end option for Tampa Bay the last two years, with 1251 yards and 14 touchdowns on 105 receptions. He has been a solid threat around the end zone, however, as Howard grows into the offense, Brate's value will become even more hit and miss.

 
Tier 5

Cook had one of the best years of his career last season in Oakland. With another full offseason to learn the offense, he should have another solid year. However, the lack of touchdown threat limits his upside. Seferian-Jenkins had a solid year in New York. However, Blake Bortles hasn't made a fantasy star out of any tight end and I am not sure that changes this year. The Jaguars offense is a run-first, ball control offense which will limit the opportunities for Seferian-Jenkins.

Clay has had three years over 500 yards in Buffalo with nine touchdowns. However, he has had a pretty serious QB downgrade making it tough for him to even repeat what he has done the previous three years. Watson will return to New Orleans as the primary tight end. In his previous stint there he had 10 touchdowns in three years with 825 receiving yards in his final season.

 
Tier 6 and beyond

My favorite player in tier six is Austin Hooper. Hooper has apparently spent the offseason working hard with Matt Ryan to try and take the next step. Hooper improved last season as a sophomore and I expect him to take another step in 2018.

Jake Butt is interesting in tier seven, having missed last year entirely. He comes into 2018 fresh off an offseason with his new QB Case Keenum. Butt has the potential to have a very nice year in that offense as the primary tight end. Beyond that Adam Shaheen is also interesting. Shaheen could find himself on the field plenty due to his ability to be a solid blocker. Being on the field is half the battle and if he can be an effective blocker, then he could be a useful part of the play action pass in the Bears new offense.

 

More Draft Rankings Analysis


Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.